The suicide of Rutgers University first-year student, Tyler Clementi, on September 22 sent shock waves around the world and deeply touched Hillel and all those who work with emerging adults.
As Jewish campus professionals, Hillel staff members are a force for civility, tolerance and healing on campuses. They are working with individual students and the broad campus community to address issues of sexuality, intimacy, privacy and acceptance.
At Rutgers, Hillel is helping the campus cope with the tragedy and giving Jewish GLBTQ students a safe and accepting environment. (See coverage in the New Jersey Jewish News.)
Hillel has signed on to the following statement written by Keshet, an organization dedicated to creating a fully inclusive Jewish community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews across the country.
L'Chaim Renewed: A Pledge to Strengthen Our Community
"As members of a tradition that sees each person as created in the divine image, we respond with anguish and outrage at the spate of suicides brought on by homophobic bullying and intolerance.
"We hereby commit to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities. As a signatory, I pledge to speak out when I witness anyone being demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. I commit myself to do whatever I can to ensure that each and every person in my community is treated with dignity and respect."
Rutgers Hillel issued a press release stating that it "affirms the dignity of every human being, that we are all made in the image of G-d, regardless of sexual orientation, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. We work and pray for the day when the entire world recognizes this, and we no longer have to attend a candlelight vigil for another human being." Jewish students at Rutgers Hillel this semester founded a group known JAQs (Jewish Allies and Queers) to offer a safe space to students who may be struggling with issues around sexuality, confidentiality and a sense of community. Rutgers Hillel is also involved with Project Civility, a new university-wide initiative to address the meaning of respect on campus.
The following resources may provide Hillel professionals and others with information for education and guidance:
Former Hillel professional Rabbi Andy Bachman offered an open letter to the young people in his community on his blog in which he wrote: "I care about you as a person made in the Image of God."
The Trevor Lifeline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) focuses on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. The Trevor Lifeline operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to reassure such youth that there is hope, there is help and they are not alone.
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educational Network offers numerous resources, including a free download of its Guide to Being an Ally to LGBT Students
Nehirim ("Lights") is the leading U.S. provider of programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews, partners, and allies. Nehirim's next retreat is taking place in New York the last weekend of October.
The Hillel LGBT Resource Guide
And the Make It Better project is focused on transforming schools and communities into places where bullying doesn't happen.